CFI Funding Prizes for New Professors’ Laboratory Equipment Translates to Greater Potential for Scientific Exploration

New IBBME Professors Gilbert, Fernandez-Gonzalez and Yoo invest awards in the future

A “Cell flow cytometer” and “time lapse microscope” might not sound like much.

But to three new core faculty appointments at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME), all whom have recently won Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) awards, the equipment may mean the difference between good science and remarkable breakthroughs.

CFI awards are won by new faculty members, with funds matched by the Ontario government. New faculty hires use the awards to purchase big-ticket equipment that drives their research projects forward and helps establish their labs. This year, IBBME’s three new core faculty members – Penney Gilbert, Paul Yoo, and Rodrigo Fernandez-Gonzalez – were each awarded CFI awards.

“Aging is becoming a really, really important topic. We’re living longer than we ever have before because medical technology allows us to extend our lives,” cites Assistant Professor Penney Gilbert .

“You lose fifteen percent of muscle mass every single year after the age of 75, a trend that is irreversible.”

Gilbert, a stem cell engineer who studies the fate of skeletal muscle stem cells, is using her recent CFI award to purchase time lapse microscopy equipment that will allow her to visualize 2- and 3-D living cell cultures. A Cell Flow Cytometer machine will help Gilbert and her graduate students analyze proteins on single cells — markers that allow scientists to determine the fate of the stem cells.

“By understanding and then harnessing the potential of stem cells that are already in our muscle, our goal is to ensure mobility throughout the ages”

Assistant Professor Paul Yoo will be adding a multi-channel electrode array multichannel recording system to his lab with his CFI funding, a system that will help him further research he began while a Postdoctoral Research fellow at Duke University.

Yoo is taking a new approach to an old cure for people suffering from overactive bladder activity. Studies have shown that stimulating a particular nerve in the ankle can curb overactive bladder activity significantly. Positive clinical results were shown in 65-70% of patients over a 12-week course of treatment.

“But no one understands how this therapy works. Moreover, there’s evidence that suggests ‘optimal stimulation’ of the nerve can improve the therapeutic effects,”says Yoo, whose current research is aiming to develop a less invasive therapy that can be remotely activated so that one day patients can be treated in the comfort of their homes.

The recording system will help Yoo and his researchers map the nerve pathways that can be used to treat this widespread problem. “People have looked at different frequencies, but no one has looked at the entire system in this much detail. That really sets [this research] apart.”

The compelling nature of his research has also led to a Connaught Innovation New Investigator Award, recently announced by the University of Toronto.

Assistant Professor Rodrigo Fernandez-Gonzalez will bring to Toronto a one-of-a-kind piece of technology to the Toronto biomedical engineering research community with his CFI grant: a “spinning disc confocal microscope equipped for laser ablation and photomanipulation.”

The microscope allows Fernandez-Gonzalez to study live tissue samples at the molecular, cellular and mechanical levels – an imperative for his field, which involves the study of animal development, particularly embryos.

“Embryos repair wounds much faster than adults,” says Fernandez-Gonzalez. “If can understand embryonic wound healing, we can develop strategies to help healing in adults.”

But if the microscope is “essential” for Fernandez-Gonzalez and his lab, it will also be a draw for researchers interested in studying subcellular structures, and will likely facilitate greater collaboration among some of the world’s leading biomedical research facilities.

“There’s no other microscope like this that exists in Toronto,” Fernandez-Gonzalez states. “It’s very, very exciting.”